As I moved into my master studies I knew of certain areas that I wanted to work on to develop as a performer. The altissimo register is one area that I had begun to work on during the last two years of my bachelor studies but had by no means started to feel comfortable with. I had received information, fingering suggestions and ideas about how the register works but I still did not really understand what was required for the production of the register or why through trial and error I was not able to consistently produce it. 


The altissimo register refers to the top tones of the instrument, notes that are higher than the F#3 where the production of these tones is based on the principle of harmonics. Unlike the ‘normal’ register of the saxophone where most notes have one main fingering and with a good air stream will produce a note with relative ease, the altissimo register has many fingerings for each note and requires a tonal imagination to sound the notes in this register. To quote Sigurd Rascher “The process is much like the act of singing; the mind’s aim for a certain tone directs the vocal chords to function in co-operation with a certain air flow…. The process becomes a bodily one and continues beyond the clear grasp of the mind.”[1] This can help explain why it is not a quantifiable method that can be taught in the same way as the other techniques.


In the original sketches made by Adolphe Sax it shows that the saxophone was intended as a three octave instrument – rather than the two and a half octaves that we consider the norm today. The sax was originally played in the French Military bands where there was no use for this higher range.  Although Adolphe was capable of playing into it, compositions for the military were traditional and this new instrument had no tradition.

The first active promotion of this technique was by Sigurd Rascher, who was at the forefront of commissioning pieces to includes these tones and as a confident performer with this register, it set him apart from his contemporaries, receiving much acknowledgment for his abilities. 

I decided to look at the moment of understanding that occurs with the playing of the register and the methods a student could use to get to that point of understanding. The respondents to my questionnaire are representative of what I want to show because many of them I have seen perform, have taught me or I have listened to their recordings where altissimo has been used successfully and seemingly with ease.

The answers to my research will result in providing other saxophonists with a resource to help find their way with the register, with the knowledge that with time

and patience it will move them towards success. Through this research process I hoped to find something that would make the register click for me while noting everything I read or changed to decide what had made everything clearer.


[1]  Sigurd M. Rascher (1977). Top-tones for the saxophone. 3rd ed. New York: Carl Fischer. 4.

Learning the altissimo register of the saxophone

Name: Emma Jones

Main Subject: Classical Saxophone

Student No: 3071367

Hand in date: 14/3/17

Main Subject Teacher: Corina Ewijk

Research Supervisor: Pete Saunders

Circle Leader: Herman Jeurissen

Format: Paper

Presentation: 10th April 2017 - 9am - Studio 3

School: Koninklijk Conservatorium/Royal Conservatoire, The Hague